Decreased physical activity has been related to several disease conditions such as type 2 diabetes, cancer, stroke, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and premature mortality, independent of obesity. Inactivity causes 11% of premature mortality in the United States, and more than 5.3 million of the 57 million deaths that occurred worldwide in 2008.1 In addition, physical inactivity at the county level is related to health care expenditures for circulatory system diseases.2 Physical activity is also being monitored through Healthy NC 2020.
The role of the built environment is important for encouraging physical activity. Individuals who live closer to sidewalks, parks, and gyms are more likely to exercise.1-3
When we look at the rise of obesity over the past several decades in the context of what has changed in our communities, we see a significant decrease in walking or biking as a form of transportation with much more time spent in cars. Car-centric community design makes it challenging in many parts of our community to walk, to bicycle, or to use public transportation (which generally requires walking and biking to round out a trip) to get around. There is a growing body of evidence that suggests that adults and children who live in communities where active transportation is realistic, affordable and convenient are more physically active. In fact, when active transportation is part of an everyday commute it may be as beneficially as structured exercise work out. A 2012 study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that the farther people commute by vehicle, the higher their blood pressure and body mass index. Also, the farther they commute, the less physical activity the individual participated in.1 In Buncombe County, 20% of the population spends more than 30 minutes driving alone to work every day.
Making active transportation a realistic, affordable and convenient option for all transportation users would help reduce health impacts and also promote physical activity, recreation and environmental preservation. Well connected streets with safe pedestrian and bicyclist paths and infrastructure can promote a healthy and active lifestyle for everyone.
Consider the following alarming statistics:
- Three-quarters of American adults will be overweight or obese by 2015 (1) , while childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past 30 years2
- Physical inactivity can lead to chronic diseases, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, osteoarthritis, cancer, stroke, and diabetes3
- Obesity costs account for approximately nine percent of all health care spending in the U.S., and part of these costs are attributable to auto-oriented transportation that inadvertently limits opportunities for physical activity 4
- According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), roughly 23 percent of U.S. children do not participate in at least 60 minutes of weekly physical activity and 44 percent do not attend physical education classes in an average school week 5
The anticipated re-authorization of the federal surface transportation bill presents the nation with an opportunity to reinvent its transportation system to promote health across urban, suburban, and rural communities.
Consider these opportunities for health from an enhanced transportation network:
- Women who walk or bike 30 minutes a day have a lower risk of breast cancer6
- Active commuting that incorporates cycling and walking is associated with an 11 percent reduction in cardiovascular risk7
- Active transportation as part of everyday travel is as effective as structured workouts for improving health8
- Teenagers who bike or walk to school watch less TV and are less likely to smoke than their peers who are driven to school, in addition to getting more overall physical activity daily9
- Public Transit users take 30 percent more steps and spend roughly eight more minutes walking each day than drivers10
- A 30-minute round-trip bicycle commute is associated with better mental health in men11
- New Yorkers save $19 billion per year because they rely less on cars than residents of other major U.S. cities12
Visit www.apha.org to learn more.